Manny Machado's early errors not yet a major concern to O's

There's no such thing as automatic in pro sports, especially in baseball, especially for an athlete who is barely old enough to order an alcoholic drink.

So why is Baltimore's collective thumb on the panic button over eight errors in six weeks by a 22-year-old who has played only one full season in the majors?


Because it's Manny Machado, the Orioles' Platinum Glove third baseman who could retire tomorrow and still market a full DVD of defensive highlights.

"He has set a very high bar. And some of those (errant) throws are from places and angles where most people aren't even catching the ball," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "People expect him to be perfect. But I wouldn't trade him for any third baseman in baseball defensively."


Machado, who had nine errors in 82 games in an injury-riddled 2014 campaign and 13 in 156 games during his Platinum Glove season in 2013, entered Thursday leading all major league third basemen with eight in 32 games so far this year, including six throwing errors. Only four big leaguers had more miscues — all shortstops — and Machado's .930 fielding percentage ranked 23rd of 28 qualifiers at third base.

Dig a little deeper, though, and perhaps the situation isn't so bleak. Machado led all third basemen in chances, assists and double plays turned. He also fares well when advanced defensive metrics are used. He was tops in range factor with a 3.50 and fourth in defensive WAR (wins above replacement) with a 0.5, trailing only Colorado's Nolan Arenado, Kansas City's Mike Moustakas and Cleveland's Lonnie Chisenhall.

"If you look at most of the stats that matter, not including fielding percentage, he is still top three in the game," Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy said. "Maybe [his number of errors] doesn't look good, but there are a lot of things that factor into that."

When first approached about discussing his 2015 defense, Machado flashed a broad grin and downplayed the early hiccups.

"I'm good. I'm where I need to be," Machado said smiling. "No, I'm not worried about the errors. If you're worried about errors, you shouldn't be in the game. They are all gonna come eventually, so you just have to play your game, and keep playing your game. There is a lot of season ahead of us. A lot more ground balls to be caught. A lot more throws to be made. So (errors) are the last thing on my mind."

His infield coach, Bobby Dickerson, for the most part shares that sentiment. Dickerson hasn't harped on the errors, saying that approach often negatively affects the mindset of players. Instead, he's challenged Machado to be mentally ready for each pitch.

That, Dickerson said, is probably his biggest concern with his star pupil this year. Because of separate knee surgeries in consecutive years, Machado was shut down in September 2013, didn't return until May 1 last season and didn't play after Aug. 11, 2014.

So, Dickerson said, it has been a while since Machado had to be on alert on every pitch. And with someone who can rely on extraordinary talent, sharpening that focus is challenging.

"As a young player, that is a tough thing. And that's what we're seeing sometimes," Dickerson said. "I think when Manny first got here, he was wanting to prove himself a little bit. And he had no pressure on him (defensively), no expectations other than to play. We saw the ability level for sure. And that's still in him. … It's just the focus part — the ability to play every single pitch after being off a year — and that's what we have to pick back up on."

There are some mechanical or technical tweaks that can be made to potentially eliminate future miscues. Dickerson said the two grounders Machado missed likely could have been caught if he had waited a little longer to field the hop. At times, Machado could set his feet better or position his right hand to prevent his throws from naturally sinking.

But the loose-limbed manner in which Machado approaches a play and some of the unorthodox arm slots from which he throws shouldn't be tweaked because those things have helped him become an elite defender at a position he began playing in 2012.

"The same throws that he makes accurately that make him Manny, that allow him to make plays that not too many people can make, when they are errant it looks really bad," Dickerson said. "I just want to get him locked in on every pitch. That's it. That's the No. 1 thing that we're focused on."


Orioles vice president Brady Anderson said he believes Machado looks better in the field this year than he did at any point in 2014 — even if Machado's errors have increased dramatically.

"He is just moving like a guy that has complete confidence in his health and last year I didn't say that," Anderson said. "Whether the numbers dictate that or not, at this point, that doesn't mean a ton to me, because he is capable of going three months without an error."

Machado didn't make an error in his first 12 games this season. He then committed six in his next nine starts. He has just two in his last 11 games, but that includes a throw in the seventh inning Tuesday that bounced off pitcher Chris Tillman's glove and led to a four-run inning.

"There are 162 games, there are 700-some balls you're gonna get," Machado said. "When you play as much as we play and you put as much effort and time into it, there's gonna be sometimes you are going to struggle and some plays where you're like, 'Wow, I should have made that play. I should have made that throw.'"

Tuesday's error was emblematic of Machado's 2015 miscues. The majority have come in the late innings of close games, so there has been more of a spotlight on them. And several could have been saved by teammates, but the plays weren't quite made.

Tillman, for instance, blamed himself for getting to first base too quickly, causing Machado's bullet from second base to sail behind the pitcher. Machado, however, said it's his responsibility to make sure his throws are chest-high.

That's one of several things that have impressed Machado's teammates during this stretch. He hasn't made excuses — though there are plenty available. Hardy, the club's infield glue, missed the first five weeks of the season, while second baseman Jonathan Schoop and utility infielder Ryan Flaherty also have been on the disabled list. So Machado has been playing primarily with a new cast of infielders. But he dismisses that and his own injury layoff as factors.

Instead, he's trying to focus on positives, like the way he has been swinging the bat. He's hitting .284 with a .348 on-base percentage, six homers and five stolen bases. He's on pace for career highs in most offensive categories. And that has helped take pressure off his fielding.

"Definitely it does. People say as long as you drive them in as much or more as you let them in, you're going to be fine," Machado said. "I think you have to find a happy medium and try to be in the middle. At the end of the day, you've just got to get better. I've got to get better at what I do and I think that's what I am working on here."

Dickerson, Showalter, Hardy and others have said Machado continues to work at his craft — and their sense is that the errors are a blip and not something that will follow him all season.


"At the end of the year, we may be talking about him winning another Gold Glove or Platinum Glove. It's just the way things kind of work out," Hardy said. "Historically, he had one of the best defensive years a third baseman has ever had [in 2013]. To expect that every single year is ridiculous. Can he do that again? Yeah, he sure can, but it doesn't mean he is going to do it every single year.

"If he did, it would be Brooks Robinson, 16 Gold Gloves later."


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